World Bank President Jim Yong Kim abruptly resigned nearly three years ahead of schedule on Monday, setting up an opening for President Donald Trump to fill – and a potential clash with other countries over the long-standing practice of the US making the appointment.
Trump has repeatedly voiced disdain for multilateral institutions and questioned US foreign aid commitments, making it likely his authority to name a new president will be challenged by emerging economies that have in recent decades grown increasingly opposed to US dominance over the global development bank.
The White House did not immediately say on Monday whether Trump plans to name a new president or provide a list of potential candidates.
The Trump administration has enjoyed a close working relationship with Kim. Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter and senior adviser, developed a woman’s entrepreneurship initiative in partnership with the World Bank in 2017 with the goal of providing more than $1 billion in financing for small-business owners.
Trump’s daughter took the idea in April 2017 to Kim, who agreed to fast track the initiative. Her involvement in the international fund drew scrutiny from watchdog groups, which said the setup could open up potential conflicts of interest.
Ivanka Trump also drew intense scrutiny after briefly taking her father’s seat at the table during the G20 meeting that July, sitting with world leaders to help launch the loan program.
Kim defended the younger Trump’s effort at the summit. “This is not a cute little project,” he said. “This is going to be a major driver of economic growth in the future … and it’s going to drive gender equality at the same time.”
Trump himself has largely ignored the World Bank, surprising some who expected his administration to have harsher words for the lender. He has also praised the outgoing president, calling him a “friend” and a “great guy,” and suggesting he himself might have selected him. “I might have even appointed him, but I didn’t,” Trump said during the 2017 G20 meetings in Germany.
Kim, who had served in the role since 2012, shifted the focus of the bank to attracting private-sector investment in development projects.
He announced Monday he would leave his post well ahead of his term’s expiration at the end of 2021. If Kim had served out his tenure, Trump would have had an opportunity to name a successor only during a potential second term in the White House.
A statement from the bank said the outgoing president would join a firm focusing on infrastructure investments in the developing world and return to the board of a health organization he founded three decades ago.
“It has been a great honor to serve as President of this remarkable institution, full of passionate individuals dedicated to the mission of ending extreme poverty in our lifetime,” Kim wrote in a statement. “The work of the World Bank Group is more important now than ever as the aspirations of the poor rise all over the world, and problems like climate change, pandemics, famine and refugees continue to grow in both their scale and complexity.”
Since its founding at the end of World War II, the World Bank has been led by Americans, all of whom were appointed by the US president. The United States is the bank’s largest shareholder.
The practice has drawn criticism from some other nations, who have insisted the bank’s focus on providing loans to developing nations requires participation by leaders from other regions.
The leader of the World Bank’s sister organization, the International Monetary Fund, has always been European.
President Barack Obama broke tradition in 2012 by choosing Kim, who was serving as president of Dartmouth College at the time. Past bank leaders had emerged from the financial world, but Kim – who was born in Seoul, South Korea, but raised in Iowa – is an anthropologist and physician by training. Obama said at the time that it was “time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency.”
He also considered candidates like then-Sen. John Kerry, who went on to become his second-term secretary of state; and then-US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, who would become his national security adviser.
Kim’s nomination faced a challenge from Nigeria’s finance minister, the first time since the bank’s founding the US candidate faced serious opposition.
Ultimately Kim garnered enough support from the bank’s executive directors to become president, but the process of securing votes – which people close to the bank describe as “arm-twisting” – laid the groundwork for future challenges to the US control of the bank’s presidency.